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Serbia November 20, 2012
H.E. Ivica Dacic
Office of Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior
Belgrade, Nemanjina 11
Republic of Serbia
It is with increasing alarm that we at the Overseas Press Club of America view what appear to be a sharp rise in attacks against Serbian journalists and their families. Fortunately, to date, these attacks have not resulted in death or serious harm, but the odious trend is one that will result in tragedy if left unchecked.
Freedom of the press has slowly diminished in Serbia over the past three years, according to measurements by independent international media organizations. That in itself is a sad trend. Freedom of the press is protected under Serbia’s Constitution and legal system — and your government has tried to ensure that the existing protections are enforced — and has taken steps to break the climate of impunity and improve access to public information.
We applaud your words to date in support of a free press, a crucial element in any democracy as well as the 21st century European community. Yet, despite legal protections, due to a highly politicized culture, the media in Serbia operates in an unfriendly environment and continues to face physical and verbal attacks, with the attacks using explosive devices of the recent weeks, representing a dangerous escalation.
Physical attacks continue to be almost a mainstay of danger for journalists in your country. And despite words of support, there has been little progress in the investigations of the murders of journalists dating back several years, including the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija and the attempted murder of a journalist in 2007.
So, we believe that more stronger action is needed — and needed now — before there are more dead journalists. Recent months have increased our concerns:
In September, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), reported on the continuous threats against journalist, Vladimir Mitric, correspondent of the Belgrade-based daily, Vecernje Novosti, in Loznica, who was threatened again in spite of having 24-hour police protection. The veteran journalist specializes in uncovering corruption in western Serbia and Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been under police protection since October 2005 after being severely beaten by a former policemen. Six years after that incident, the aggressor was convicted by the Court of Appeals in Belgrade and sentenced to one year in prison. Loznica court sentenced the aggressor to one month – hardly a sentence that would dissuade those who seek to attack the free press.
On the evening of October 16, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the house of Damir Dragic, director of the Belgrade-based tabloid daily, Informer. Although no one was injured, the family car was gutted by fire.
One week later, on 23 October, someone launched a Molotov cocktail at the terrace of Biljana Vujovic, a presenter with TV Kopernikus, at approximately at 3:30 a.m.. Vujovic, who was awake at the time, was able to react quickly and to extinguish a fire that started spreading.
On October 30, someone placed an explosive device, which did not explode, near the family house of Tanja Jankovic, a journalist with TV B92, in Vranj. A little more than a month earlier, Jankovic and members of her family were involved in a brawl with other guests at a wedding. Jankovic was hit in the head. Other family members were injured. It is still not clear if the brawl – a police inspector was among the guests – was related to Jankovic’s work as an investigative journalist or was motivated by other reasons.
We urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, to order an investigation into these and all other outstanding cases of attacks against journalists and to use the power of your office to state clearly and forcefully that these attacks must stop.
If authorities do not find the perpetrators and bring them to justice, it is almost certain these attacks against journalists will simply go unpunished, as it has often happened in the past, and more will occur in greater intensity and harm. It is only a matter of time before more journalists will die unless you act now to stop this.
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Vladimir Petrovic
Serbian Ambassador to the United States of America
Embassy of the Republic of Serbia
2134 Kalorama Road, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 332.3933
H.E. Aleksandar Vucic
First Deputy Prime Minister
Belgrade, Bulevar Mihajla Pupina 2
Republic of Serbia
Tel. (011.381.11) 311.2916
Fax: (011.381.11) 311.4650